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Makumba: Zimbabwe's hijacked election

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

Makumba. 2002. Zimbabwe's hijacked election. Journal of Democracy 13.


Makumba, head of Zimbawbe's chapter of Transparency International, describes the widespread fraud, intimidation, and violence employed by Robert Mugabe during the 2002 election.

A Brief History of Zimbawbe's 2002 Election

Zimbawbe won independence from Britain in 1980 after a 13-year(ish) liberation struggle. A leader of the struggle, Robert Mugabe, became Zimbawbe's first executive. At first, he was popular. However, he has gradually run Zimbawbe into the ground, especially with his land reforms; though Makumba concedes that land reform might be a valid idea, Mugabe's approach has been to violently take white-owned farms and divide the lands among his supporters. Many of these lands now lie fallow. Thus, these farms, which once made Zimbawbe the breadbasket of Africa and employed thousands of black workers, have been destroyed, and Zimbawbe has descended into famine, poverty, and disorder. By the time of the 2002 election, Mugabe's economic mismanagement led to suspension frorm IMF and World Bank aid.

The early years of Zimbawbe's independence were relatively free, and several civil society organizations and opposition parties cropped up. As Mugabe increasingly lost popularity, these opposition groups gained support, coalescing around the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The MDC began pressing for constitutional reforms. Mugabe sought to undermine them by proposing his own reforms, which he offered in a referendum in 2000. He was shocked to lose by a large margin, after which the MDC celebrated its victory against Mugabe in the streets.

In 2002, the MDC supported Tsvangirai against Mugabe in the 2002 presidential elections. By 2002, however, Mugabe surely saw what most analysts were predicting: There was no way he could possibly win a fair election. The loss in 2000 had made this abundantly clear. As a result, Mugabe (and his ZANU-PF party) turned to intimidation and violence. Using heavy-handed tactics, the national policy prevented MDC from holding most of its rallies, and it prevented MDC supporters from campaigning in certain rural areas. Mugabe, meanwhile, held frequent rallies, especially in rural areas (where his support was), and frequently forced people to attend.

Similarly, the Zanu-PF recruited old war veterans (from the liberation struggle) and supplemented these ranks with young people who were trained in paramilitary tactics and torture. For safety, many MDC supporters fled to urban areas; two-fifths of schools in one region were forced to close because teachers (suspected by Mugabe of generally supporting the MDC) fled to urban areas. MDC supporters stayed in urban areas because travellers in certain regions would encounter roadblocks run by Zanu-PF militants; anybody without a Zanu-PF membership care would be stopped and either turned back or beaten.

On election day, there was general calm. But Mugabe made specific efforts to facilitate voting in rural areas (lots of voting stations, for example), but provided worked to depress turnout in urban areas (e.g. too few polling stations in urban areas). Thus, urbanites waited in line for 10-12 hours to vote. While waiting, they were subject to police harassment. Many were arrested by police accusing them of trying to vote twice. Half of the MDC observers were arrested on the night before elections and held until the first voting day (of two days) was half over. When they arrived, there were already full ballot boxes, which were most likely stuffed full of pro-Mugabe ballots. At every level, there was substantial fraud. The final result was so skewed in favor of Mugabe that it strained belief.

Still, most of the African observers called the election free and fair, though it was roundly condemned by Western observers and some African observers.

After the election, Tsvangirai challenged the results in court. In return, Mugabe accused him of making a death threat and challenged him with high treason.

Research on similar subjects


Makumba, John (author)Comparative PoliticsDemocratizationElectionsViolence

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